Indiana Disaster Changed Outdoor Concerts


This was one of my best expose's..... published in May 2012.

Summer holiday season the USA has more than 70 large State Fairs, most offering concerts. For country rock act Sugarland it was peak touring time, and rolling into Indiana on August 13 last year was just another routine outdoor gig. Mid America Sound Corporation were ready, for over 20 years they supplied the sound, lights and the stage roof and rigging.

No one knew then but this gig would change the way outdoor events were managed around the world.

The Indiana State Fair negotiated away the rights to cancel their show, allowing American country act Sugarland to dictate whether to appear. They chose to play in the face of a devastating storm, sent the spot operators up into the rig, and then everything collapsed onto the audience.

Amazingly after agreeing to give the band complete control over the gig, no one signed the actual contract. The promoter claims it was normal practice to only sign the contract once the gig was underway.

Now extensive engineering reports prove the roof structure was unsafe - designed for 65 mile an hour wind but failing as gusts exceeded just 43mph. CX showed video of the collapse at the national Outdoor Stage Safety seminar in February, and audiences were amazed to observe audience members with hats intact as 'vicious winds' blew the stage roof over.

20 tonnes tonnes of lights, sound and video wall transformed the 14 metre tall James Thomas Engineering structure well beyond its design limitations. The stage weighed around 11 tonnes bare of production.

No one checked the construction, or the rigging that day. The guy lines that are essential to secure the tall roof structure standing on thirteen truss columns ran off to concrete 'Jersey' road barriers which once the wind hit, just slid along the tarmac.

Before the collapse the band tour manager was holding firm. They would appear, they had to maintain their schedule. The band's contract gave it "sole and exclusive authority to cancel the concert due to inclement weather," stage and production supplier Mid-America Sound Corporation alleged in court documents.

After the show the band and crew would sleep in their tour coaches on the nine hour drive to Des Moines for the next days show.

Emergency services scrambled to respond to the disaster as rain lashed the site and the almost 12,000 fleeing punters. Different communication frequencies created confusion, the first rescue truck became bogged, closing one access track. Volunteers from the crowd surged into the disaster area, as a state trooper yelled for someone to turn off the power as it was potentially lethal to rescuers and victims.

Staggeringly, another outdoor event just across town escaped the storm with no injuries, because they had a clear disaster plan. The Indiana Symphony announcer calmly read this pre-arranged script, activated within their plan. "The National Weather Service has confirmed that threatening weather is moving into the area. For everyone's safety, we are canceling the concert due to this threat. Please return to your cars as soon as possible."

7,000 people did just that, and sat out the tempest. 


Sugarland is a country rock duo with supporting band who travel in seven tour busses with nine semi-trailers. The act was contracted to appear at the State Fair for US$340,000 guarantee plus a cut of the gate.

State Fairs are like an Australian agricultural show, where the animal and cake competitions take second place to the carnival and the concerts. Indiana attracts just under a million people to its Fair – similar in scale to the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

The Indiana State Fair had a healthy program of music concerts, more typical in the USA than Australia; where Sydney or Brisbane agricultural shows have a mixed program that doesn't usually have a roster of concerts. At Indiana, bands like Kiss, Train and acts like Janet Jackson featured, alongside more country styled acts like Sugarland. Typically a headline act and a support act would feature on a given day.

Mid America Sound Corporation were the only production firm in the state able to supply a VDosc PA. They purchased the JTE load bearing roof specifically to sit atop the concrete stage platform, which has dressing rooms underneath. The firm has done production for the State Fair more than 20 years, and chief "Kerry (Darrencamp) is a hometown guy" reported Eric Milby, the Fair production manager. The last report available shows Mid America were paid $139,600 in 2009 for the stage and production across the 17 day duration of the Fair, and had agreed to hold price increases at no more than 2% yearly.

The pecking order in the command chain goes like this:

Dave Lucas Entertainment Group, LLC (Lucas), book the acts. Margaret Davidson, the Fair Event Producer, managed the Lucas contract and Lucas employee Anne O'Toole, VP of Booking, worked with Davidson to select the acts for the 2011 State Fair.

O'Toole then negotiated price and terms with the booking agency. O'Toole had limited involvement in production of the events as well.

For the Sugarland production, Eric Milby's role was to serve as the liaison between Sugarland's touring company and the Fair. As an example of his role, before the event Milby received information about how to set up the band's production equipment from Sugarland's representative and provided the information to Mid America Sound Corporation, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), and the Fair. On August 13th, Milby was on site as the Sugarland crew, Mid‐America Sound Corporation and IATSE workers unloaded and installed equipment from 8am.

With the assistance of Lucas, the Fair worked with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) for Sugarland to perform on August 13th. Lucky Star is the legal name for Sugarland's company. 

Gellman Management is the band's manager. Helen Rollens of Gellman was the Tour Manager. Chris Crawford was the Production Manager.


Witt Associates provided an Independent Assessment report on the disaster. This is their summary:

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued notices throughout the day and evening warning of strong thunderstorms in Central Indiana. Ray Allison, the Fair's Director of Public Safety and Logistics periodically called the local NWS office for updates. Twice he related the forecasts to Fair personnel via a newly acquired system which allowed for voice or text messages to be distributed to those on a preset list. After 7:00 p.m., he communicated that we will experience heavy rain, possible high winds, hail and some lightning between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m.

The Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye scheduled a meeting for 8:00 p.m. to discuss the implications of the forecast on the scheduled 8:45 p.m. start time for the Sugarland concert.

Per Director Hoye, the meeting was about timing of the production; public safety was not the focus. The State Police were not involved in the 8:00 p.m. meeting or any discussions regarding delaying the show. Following the meeting, Eric Milby, a subcontractor to Lucas, was sent to speak with band management and communicate the Fair's desire to delay the show.

Milby spoke with Helen Rollens, Sugarland's Tour Manager, in the band's office underneath the stage. Both concur that they spoke only about the forecast for rain. Noting that Sugarland plays in rain frequently, Rollens said the band wanted to go on and, if the weather got bad, would stop, and then come back to finish the performance.

A few minutes after the initial conversation, Milby returned to the band's office with Anne O'Toole, his colleague from Lucas who had booked the performance on behalf of the Fair. O'Toole was concerned that Rollens' proposal to start and then stop the show would be detrimental to the flow of the performance. After discussion, they agreed on an 8:50 p.m. start time. When this information reached Director Hoye, she concurred, assuming that it was the band's call. The crews all began preparation for the performance. Four spotlight operators climbed into their stations.

Following the meeting in the production trailer, Director Hoye was backstage addressing another issue when she recognized Captain Brad Weaver of the State Police. Captain Weaver expressed concern about the threat that the approaching weather posed to public safety. Up to that moment, Fair staff had focused on the effect of the weather on the timing of the production. Captain Weaver and Director Hoye discussed an evacuation plan.

Director Hoye instructed her staff to begin preparing for the evacuation of the Grandstand area. At 8:39 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a severe weather warning for the area. Neither Director Hoye nor Captain Weaver received this information. Director Hoye dictated a message to Bob Richards, local radio personality, that he delivered a message to the audience. Richards told the audience that weather was expected but the band was going to start. He related that if the weather came the audience should evacuate to nearby buildings. This was not the message Captain Weaver expected and he confronted Director Hoye. They headed up the stage to announce an immediate evacuation.

The Structure collapsed before they got the chance make that announcement.


While the conversations about the weather and show were underway in the production trailer, Bryan Jones, the Security Supervisor, was backstage and approached State Police First Sergeant Gary Coffie with a complaint from Sugarland personnel. State Police troopers were allowing off‐duty law enforcement officers and their families to access and congregate backstage. The additional people were in the way of the concert set‐up.

Approximately 8:15 p.m., First Sergeant Coffie saw State Police Captain Weaver, who was off‐duty and attending the concert with his wife, and asked for guidance on how to handle the troopers backstage. Captain Weaver advised First Sergeant Coffie to disperse the troopers backstage and remove anyone who did not have proper credentials.

Unknowingly this saved their lives.

As the tour prepared for the 8:50 p.m. show start, the spot operators climbed up the Structure around 8:30 p.m. Scott Bauer, the IATSE Chief Steward, expressed his concerns that the show was going on despite the weather with Chris Crawford, Sugarland's Stage Manager. Spot Operator Enoch Vinegar stated he and the other spot operators all had radio communications with the Lighting Director.

The band was preparing to go on at 8:50 p.m. and created a prayer circle below the stage. At some point Helen Rollens saw lightning and stopped the band. Word was given to bring the spotlight operators down and they were in the process of coming down. At approximately 8:45 p.m., Bauer called the operators down from the spot light positions.

But at approximately 8:46 p.m., a strong gust of wind (commonly known as a gust front) blew, dust went up and the Structure collapsed and fell onto the people on the track, near the stage.


Media reports emerged late April this year from two days of testimony given by Sugarland and others during court hearings.

It was claimed in court that Sugarland was asked twice to delay the show, but the band refused "because Nettles, the lead singer, had already warmed up and the band had to be in Des Moines, Iowa, the next day", according to Fair Director Hoye's deposition.

The band's contract also gave it "sole and exclusive authority to cancel the concert due to inclement weather," lawyers for Mid-America Sound alleged in court documents.

Sugarland's attorneys said in a court filing earlier this year that "some fans were responsible for their injuries because they didn't seek shelter". This provoked a media storm that rattled the band, but not sufficiently to avoid further claims after the latest court appearance, that the two band members did not accept any responsibility for their role in the disaster.

Sugarland's court account did not satisfy an attorney for several of the victims.

Attorney Kenneth J. Allen said he was "struck by the lack of emotion and compassion" shown by band members Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush while they gave depositions.

The band comprises Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles. Co-founder Kristen Hall

recently filed a lawsuit for $14 million against Bush and Nettles stating that she was being excluded from sharing profits as had been agreed upon after her departure in 2005 to pursue a solo career.

Earlier this year separate court actionsby Indiana's Occupational Safety & Health Administration on narrow issues ordered large fines against Mid America Sound Corporation.

They were issued three "Knowing" citations, which essentially claim that the company had knowledge of these requirements but willfully ignored them. The included (1) not having an operational plan for the 2011 shows, (2) not supplying cross-bracing as recommended by the manufacturer and (3) that they did not take into full consideration weights of all equipment.

Mid-America Sound Corporation's total fines were $63,000, while the Union faced four Citations and were fined $11,500.

This narrow set of actions will be dwarfed by the victims compensation case that will follow the recent set of depositions from the band and the Fair organisers.


The stage roof was purchased from James Thomas Engineering, specifically to sit atop the concrete stage platform at the Fair. On 13 truss columns, it weighed around 11 tonnes.

For the Sugarland show, the eventual production equipment weight was around 20 tonnes – line array, lighting and LED scrim and screen.

Once erected, the bare roof structure was secured using concrete road barriers as ballast or ground , known in the USA as Jersey Barriers. These are ten feet long, and weight almost 2 tonnes each.

A total of ten barriers were located in an arc out from the PA wings, 180 degrees around the rear of the stage. Each barrier was located sufficiently distant from its rigging point so that the guy wire would run at approximately 45 degrees from barrier to the top of the structure.

Some Jersey Barriers had a guy wire from each end, to a different point of the structure. Some were located longways, with just one guy wire. Fourteen wires cross braced and secured the entire structure to the ten barriers. Each guy wire had a ratchet strap arrangement for tensioning.

Crucially the barriers were plonked on various surfaces – curbed, gravel, grass – and not secured to the ground except by gravity.

The investigating engineers constructed a scale model of the stage and the production equipment which was wind tunnel tested. Alongside calculations, they determined a north to south wind would collapse the structure at just 25 mph. The best wind direction of West would cause failure at 43mph.

This was significantly less than the bare stage itself, and the entire rig should not have failed until winds hit 68 mph under the code in place at the time.

Video shows the win strike up dust, and the tarp rips away before the structure fell. The first failure was stage right, the barrier closest to the PA power slides then the guy wire fails. Then the barrier furthest out from upstage right follows and fails. The final pair of barriers on stage left then shift and fail. Some are dragged some distance.

The wind is at 43 mph, the structure is now doomed and within three seconds it has tipped over onto the crowd and stage crew.


The engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti of Chicago (who produced an engineering report on the collapse) made the following findings.

They said "the technical information presented in the James Thomas

Engineering catalog is insufficient to adequately design a structure such as the ISF Structure, yet there is no explicit direction to engage the services of a licensed design professional to analyze complex loading configurations or


But the manufacturer got off lightly compared to the findings regarding the owners of the structure. "Regardless of the inadequacy of the directions of James

Thomas Engineering's structural engineer, Mid America Sound Corporation's installation of the ISF Structure deviated from the directions provided in the calculations performed by that structural engineer with regard to the lateral load resisting system."

"Mid America Sound Corporation's configuration and erection of the ISF Structure did not include a review by a licensed design professional to determine the capacities or limitations of the ISF Structure."

The blame spreads: "The Indiana State Fair Commission staff has no records, documentation, plans, engineering reports or related technical data regarding the ISF Structure that is erected at the Fairgrounds on an annual basis."

Witt Associates looked at the organisational aspects of the Fair's emergency planning, and the City rollout in response. They slammed the venue – the Fair – for not having properly developed plans.

"Emergency response plans and procedures were not fully developed. The plans were not referenced or used on August 13. Multiple agencies were involved in aspects of public safety prior to the State Fair, although no entity had a clear responsibility for overall public safety. The plans did not address multi-agency coordination."

Crucially, despite there being some emergency planning in place, albeit inadequate, the Fair did not share the planning with the production! "The State Fair relies on contractors for Grandstand production; they were not aware of the plans", Witt concluded.


At the CX Stage Safety seminar earlier in 2012, recommendations were made regarding compulsory inspections of stage structures and production, before audience admission to events.

Thornton Tomasetti recommendedthe same thing, but in better detail. "Entertainment structures should be designed by a licensed design professional with experience in the design and evaluation of temporary entertainment structures with complex loading configurations. Analysis should be performed for the engineered structure and for the establishment of highly specific rigging rules and limitations for its use. For productions that do not conform to the resulting "pre.approved" rigging configurations, a separate engineering analysis should be performed."

They continued: "Operational controls implemented or considered in the design

and use of entertainment structures should reflect the complexity of modern productions, including the limited ability to rapidly reduce loads by removing the suspended entertainment technology used in these productions." This is a key point – many emergency plans CX has seen rely on rapidly lowering line arrays, video walls, and lighting trusses as bad weather approaches.

Thornton Tomasetti recommended that guy line anchor systems for entertainment structures should utilize fixed, mechanical anchors (into ground) whenever possible.

They conclude: "The entertainment industry would benefit from the development of comprehensive engineering-based documents related to the

design, construction and use of entertainment structures."

Witt Associates urged the State to regulate structures for outdoor entertainment. They name PLASA as the peak industry association and nominate its standards for consideration, specifically ANSI E1.2 2006, Entertainment Technology Design, Manufacture and Use of Aluminum Trusses and Towers, and ANSI E1.21 2006, Temporary Ground Supported Overhead Structures Used To Cover Stage Areas and Support Equipment in the Production of Outdoor Entertainment Events.

"PLASA is also actively promoting certification for theater and arena riggers and

entertainment electricians called the Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP)", reports Witt.


So now the State, and the industry more widely has had the most terrible of wakeup calls.

The collapse of the structure at the Indiana State Fair was not unique. There were four high profile temporary stage canopy collapses during the 2011 summer concert season: one on July 17th at the Cisco Ottawa Blues Festival in Ottawa, Canada; one on August 7th at Brady District Block Party, Tulsa Oklahoma; one on August 13th at the Indiana State Fairgrounds; and another on August 18th at the Pukkelpop Festival in Kiewit, Belgium.

All collapses resulted in tremendous property damage and two in multiple fatalities.

The two big lessons from Indiana are that you need far more ballast than you think – they had 20 tonnes on the deck, but with one wind direction, from the North, only two of the ten ballast blocks had effect.

The second lesson is the hardest one, but the Indiana Symphony Orchestra demonstrated that very same tragic night that you can evacuate an audience safely if you have a proper plan.

The final note has to be to remind us all that a band is the last entity you let control an event – think about Limp Bizkit at Big Day Out a decade ago, when fans rushed the stage in the mosh pit, and teenager Jessica Michalik died of asphyxiation. The coroner said that lead singer Fred Durst should have acted more responsibly when the problem became apparent.

For an emergency plan to work, it has to be written into the venue hire contract, the performer contracts, and the production contracts. Everyone has to be on the same page, so that given a trigger event, the call is made and the plan rolls out.


Best Practice Case Study: Indiana Symphony Orchestra

An example of a best practice in procedures dealing with weather at a outdoor event can be found with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, which on August 13, 2011, was having an outdoor concert at the same time as the Sugarland Concert was about to start at the Indiana State Fair.

Mr. Thomas Ramsey, VP and General Manager for the Indianapolis Symphony

Orchestra advised that he made the decision to cancel the show at 8:10 p.m.; the announcer got on stage and advised the participants of the cancellation at 8:10 p.m., and the evacuation lasted twenty minutes. The majority of the public was in their cars by 8:35 p.m.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has a decision making process and written protocols that were in place on the evening of August 13th and are outlined in their Conner Prairie Symphony 2011 Operations Procedures and Symphony on the Prairie, Weather Information, Management & Rain Check Procedures. Such protocols were also outlined in the Fishers Police

Department Unified Command Incident Action Plan for Symphony on the Prairie 2011.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra combines weather information from several public sources and subscribes to a private weather service. The final decision for an event to be started, delayed or cancelled is clearly spelled out

as the responsibility of the Vice President and General Manager of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Continuous training and exercising is done with the Fishers first response community.

The symphony performance for the evening of August 13th was cancelled due to

weather conditions, and in time for the entire concert area to be vacated.

This case study provides an example of a local standard of care that should be used as an example of a best practice that should be considered by the Indiana State Fair Commission.

(From Witt Associates Independent Assessment report)

Unsigned Band Contracts

So who would think that NOT signing a performance contract is a good idea? The Fair organisers say it is industry practice to only sign once the show is underway. A review of previous shows bears this out – the Fair signed almost all contracts, but the artists didn't.

Maroon Five, Janet Jackson,Train and Lady Antebullum were all recent acts that came, played, collected and departed without bothering to sign.

The upshot of this disaster is that not only will contracts need to be signed, the VENUE will need to ensure that it takes the LEAD over the disaster planning – after all the entity with the MOST control is the venue.

Imagine a stage manager, or a production person, trying to call off a gig – with the promoter yelling that they don't have insurance so they will be ruined and no one will be paid.

A promoter without weather insurance? Yes, happens all the time. Google Playground Weekender as an example..... 

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This Could Be Serious
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